Legalization of Marijuana Hits Congress

by Vince

Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced a bill today that would amend the government’s Controlled Substances Act to remove all federal penalties for the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana, effectively striking down its classification as a scheduled drug.

The bill aims to allow individual states to set their own marijuana laws without the concern of being overridden on the federal level. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 [pdf] — the first bill of its kind — resembles the repeal of the 18th Amendment in that it restricts the government’s role in controlling the substance to keeping the drug out states where it is banned.

“The legislation would limit the federal government’s role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or inter-state smuggling, allowing people to legally grow, use or sell marijuana in states where it is legal,”  according to the MPP statement.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), is the first of its kind to be proposed in Congress that would end the 73-year-old federal marijuana prohibition that began with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

Although Frank insists that this “is not a legalization bill,” it will be an excellent test for those in Congress who claim to be for a limited, smaller, federal government — one that gives more power to the states whenever possible as Paul and the “tea party” have rallied for over the last few years.

If the bill somehow makes it through both houses of Congress, it would be interesting to see if President Obama would sign it, seeing as the president’s feelings on the controversial matter have been hazy.

“We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws,” Obama said in Feb. 2008. “But I’m not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana. What I do believe is that we need to rethink how we’re operating in the drug war. Currently, we’re not doing a good job.”

During a conference call today, Frank suggested what he’d like to see states do with their new autonomy, expressing his view that “prosecuting responsible adults who make the decision that they wish to smoke marijuana interferes with their personal freedom.” He said he was “particularly struck by the hypocrisy of public officials who will themselves talk about smoking marijuana, wink at it, and then make it criminal for other people,” which results in “a very discriminatory pattern of enforcement.” (Ahem, Bloomberg.) Frank conceded the bill “has no chance of passing” anytime soon, but added, “I think we are making progress. I think the public is way ahead of the legislators on this….This is an educational process.”

The bill amends the Controlled Substances Act so that marijuana is no longer a scheduled drug and declares:

This Act [the CSA] shall not apply to marihuana, except that it shall be unlawful only to ship or transport, in any manner or by any means whatsoever, marihuana, from one State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof, into any other State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or from any foreign country into any State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof, when such marihuana is intended, by any person interested therein, to be received, possessed, sold, or in any manner used, either in the original package or otherwise, in violation of any law of such State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof.

I take from this all that the states will deal with marijuana issues on their own terms (some are with their heavily militarized approaches). The rest of the fine details I have not fully digested yet.

(TDW/latimes /reason

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